It turns out former Mets manager Bobby Valentine is so beloved in Japan that thousands of fans are going to bat for him to keep his job as manager of the Chiba Lotte Marines. He’s been their manager for seven years and he’s become a fan favorite both on and off the field.
Fans have been holding vigils for him to keep his job. A petition sent around by fans has accumulated 50,000 signatures. However, the team has said they will not bring him back for the 2010 season even though Valentine offered to take a pay cut.
The rest of the story is beyond the break. Who would like to see Valentine back as the Mets manager?
The Associated Press
CHIBA, Japan — Bobby Valentine put the fans first in Japan, and in his moment of need, they¹re paying him back.
An ever-growing number of fans of the Chiba Lotte Marines are holding nightly vigils in support of their manager, upset at the Japanese baseball club’s refusal to extend his contract beyond the end of this season.
In his seventh season with the Marines, the charismatic Valentine has long been a fan favorite in Japan not only for what he’s done on the field but also off the field, where he’s made significant progress in making Japanese baseball more fan friendly.
“We want to show our support for Bobby,” said Lotte fan Jun Okazaki. “He gives us exciting baseball and makes us feel like we all have a chance in life.” Fans in the rightfield seats at Chiba Marine Stadium wear T-shirts that say “Bobby 2010” on the front and wave huge signs with slogans like “No Bobby, No Marines,” and “Always Behind Bobby.” Before going into the stadium, fans can sign a petition to keep Valentine on as the team’s manager beyond the 2009 season. Okazaki said they already have about 50,000 signatures.
“It’s an amazing thing, I find it hard to put into words what this means to me,” an emotional Valentine said today. “These fans decided this is what they are going to do and they go out and do it. These are people with jobs: executives, students, housewives, it’s an incredible thing.” Valentine, who led the Mets to the World Series in 2000, endeared himself to Lotte fans when he guided the Marines to their first Japan Series championship in 31 years in 2005.
Valentine’s presence is felt everywhere at Chiba Marine Stadium. There is a special section of the stadium where kids can sit in the “Bobby Seats” free of charge and a street near the stadium has been renamed Valentine Way.
Even when things aren’t going that well – the team missed the playoffs last year and got off to a slow start this season – Lotte fans just can’t seem to get enough of Bobby V, who signs autographs and poses for pictures with fans every chance he gets.
Team president Ryuzo Setoyama announced in the offseason that the team couldn’t afford Valentine after this season.
While Valentine prefers not to discuss the specifics of his contract, reports in Japan suggest that he makes $3.9 million per season.
After being told the team would not bring him back for 2010, Valentine offered to re-negotiate his contract to make it more affordable for management to keep him on the payroll.
There are signs the situation is becoming a problem for Lotte’s front office.
In April, Setoyama was forced to deny rumors the club was considering relocating because of the fan protests. In minutes from a team meeting leaked to the Japanese media, Setoyama was quoted by Kyodo News agency as saying “If we have unworthy fans like this let’s move (our home stadium).” Setoyama denied the comments, saying they were a “forgery.”
Meanwhile, the 59-year-old Valentine has said he accepts the team’s decision and is doing his best to keep things positive in the Lotte clubhouse.
“It’s definitely a bizarre situation,” said Lotte outfielder Benny Agbayani, who also played for Valentine with the Mets. “I’ve never seen a situation like this where a manager was told so far in advance that his contract wouldn’t be renewed. It’s a major distraction for sure, but Bobby is dealing with it well.” The standoff between Lotte fans and management is reminiscent of 1995 when Valentine was let go despite leading the team to a second-place finish in the Pacific League.
Valentine, a native of Stamford, Conn., returned to the States to manage in the major leagues and his success with the Mets only added to his popularity with Lotte fans who felt betrayed by management.
Then general manager Tatsuro Hirooka said Valentine was being let go because he didn’t understand Japanese baseball. Others argued his popularity with the players and the fans rubbed Hirooka the wrong way.
As they are doing now, fans tried to petition the club in ’95 to keep Valentine but it was too late. This time, they began at the start of the season and hope their efforts pay off.
“We’re here for every home game and will be here until the end of the season,” said Okazaki.
The Marines are currently in fifth place in the six-team Pacific League. The top three teams qualify for the postseason, and if Valentine can get his Marines to move up the standings in the next few months, the showdown between Lotte fans and the front office is sure to heat up.